Tel Jezreel and Jezreel Spring
Tel Jezreel is located on a rocky spur on the foothills of the Gilboa Mountains and was the main fortress of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th century BCE. Archeological digs have been carried out on the tel, but there is nothing worthwhile to see. However, it does offer wonderful views over the eastern Jezreel Valley. One can also take a short easy hike down into the Jezreel Valley to the Jezreel Spring. You may be walking on the very path that King Ahab took when visiting Naboth’s vineyard, as told in the Book of Kings. This is good reason to talk about the story.
The Jezreel Valley obtained its name because of the Jezreel fortress on the side of the valley. This fortress overlooked the important highway in the valley, the Via Maris, which connected Egypt to Syria and Mesopotamia. It was also adjacent to a major ancient road which connected Jerusalem to the Galilee via Ganim (Jenin). Jezreel was one of the main residences of the kings of Israel. Ahab’s father Omri built the city of Samaria as the southern capital of the Northern Israelite Kingdom, while Jezreel may have been his northern capital. The fortress contained the main Israelite chariot force. We know from Assyrian inscriptions that Ahab participated in a battle against the Assyrians that included 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers, so that this was no small army.
HIKE FROM TEL JEZREEL TO JEZREEL SPRING
Time: Just under an hour there and back.
Distance: 2 Km there and back.
Type of hike: Same way there and back.
Difficulty: Easy walking along a gravel path with some stone steps. The incline is not particularly steep.
Directions: Enter “Tel Jezreel” into Waze. This will bring you to the parking lot.
Admission: There is no admission charge, no brochure, and no facilities such as WC’s.
Within the eucalyptus grove are the spring, pool, picnic tables, camping places and a parking lot.
HIKE FROM TEL JEZREEL TO JEZREEL SPRING
From the parking lot take the trail to a sign with the Biblical account of Naboth’s murder (in Hebrew) and then continue to the observation point.
At the observation point is a sign providing distance details of what you are viewing. Ahead of you (to the north), you can see on the far side of the Jezreel Valley the Hill of Moreh (Givat HaMoreh). Moshav Merhavia and kibbutz Merhavia are in front of and to the west of this hill and the Arab town of Sulam (known in the Bible as Shumen) at its foot. The city of Afula is to your left (west) in the valley and north of this in the hills is Nazareth. The pool is hidden from your view because of the eucalyptus grove in front of you in the valley.
The blue-marked trail then turns down the hill. As you descend you will see a eucalyptus grove in front of you.
At the base of the hill pass through the open gate and continue straight ahead through the field.
At the edge of the field turn right to the pool. In the center of the pool are the ruins of a house. There are picnic benches here, places for camping and a parking lot. This spring was formerly protected by the lower city of Jezreel.
Return to your car the way you came.
The Biblical account of Naboth and his vineyard is a fascinating story about the interaction between three systems of ethics regarding the power of the monarchy. One is the usual system in that historic period. Kings were given power by the gods, and they could do whatever they could get away with. This accounts for the many battles of the superpower empires that characterized this time. Diametrically opposed to this was monotheism and its system of ethics promoted by the prophets of Israel, such as Elijah. A king was never above the law, and additional restrictions were imposed by the Torah on the king to limit his power, such as the prohibition of having too many wives and too many horses (for chariots). Then there was the system of the Northern Israelite Kingdom. Culturally it was Jewish and sometimes held by its ethics, but it frequently veered towards paganism.
King Ahab had been well set up by his father Omri to become one of the most powerful monarchs in the region. Omri sealed an alliance with the important state of Phoenicia by marrying his son to the daughter of the Phoenician king. She was called Jezebel. As did Solomon, Ahab built a temple to Baal for his queen so she could worship her gods. Sensing Israel’s ambivalence with respect to monotheism, this strong-willed woman pushed for the worship of Baal Melqart, the deity of Tyre, to become the dominant form of worship in her husband’s kingdom. She attempted to eliminate the prophets of God and supported 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. This led to a confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and Elijhah’s killing of them all. However, this was not enough to overcome Jezebel’s power and Ahab’s ambivalence.
Adjacent to Ahab’s palace was the vineyard of Naboth and Ahab wanted to make it into a vegetable garden. Ahab offered him a replacement of even greater worth or a sale. Naboth refused saying: “God forbid that I should give to you what I have inherited from my fathers” (1 Kings 21:4). Naboth was well within his rights to say this as according to Biblical law land in Israel was not to be sold in perpetuity (Leviticus 25:23). When Jezebel found out how upset her husband was, she arranged for him to obtain it the Phoenician way. She sent letters to the elders and officials of the city to find two false witnesses to accuse Naboth of blaspheming the monotheistic God and the king, and following Biblical law he was stoned for this. In this situation, normal inheritance would be bypassed and his estate would go straight to the king. Ahab deliberately turned a blind eye to what his wife was doing and thereby became an accomplice.
Elijah the prophet was told by God to confront Ahab with the famous words “Have you murdered and then inherited?” (I Kings 21:19). Measure for measure, Ahab and his queen would die, as would all his dynasty and their blood would be lapped up by the dogs.
Ahab repented and his punishment was delayed. Nevertheless, he died three years later in battle and the blood from his chariot was lapped by the dogs at the pool of Samaria. Elijah’s successor Elisha arranged that Jehu, one of Ahab’s generals, attempt a palace coup. Jehu took upon himself the task of killing Ahab’s heir King Yoram, wiping out all of Ahab many sons, and killing Jezebel (all of which he did with relish). He also killed all the Baal worshippers in Israel.
Interestingly, indicators of a nearby winery have been found in the valley, including rock cut vats and a treading floor, but other than a suggestive location there is no evidence that this once belonged to Naboth.